WASHINGTON, AUGUST 5, 2013 (BULLETIN) PH Steps Up Security As Interpol Bares Wave Of Prison Breaks By The New York Times Published: August 5, 2013

WASHINGTON — Interpol issued a global alert on Saturday asking member countries to help track hundreds of terrorism suspects who escaped in a wave of prison breaks over the past month — including in Iraq, Pakistan and Libya — and requesting assistance in determining whether any of the operations “are coordinated or linked.”

Taking seriously the global security alert issued by Interpol, the Philippine government has stepped up the country’s security measures, especially in certain Western embassies, to quell any attack, Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte said yesterday.

She said the government will sustain efforts on intelligence gathering as well as making potential targets more resistant to attacks.

“We consulted the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the NSA had advised us that we are already intensifying intelligence gathering and we continue the hardening of targets which are the focus of these alerts such as the US Embassy,” Valte said over government radio.

Valte, however, declined to divulge details of the government’s increased security measures “because that’s like telling those people who want to do harm that these are things that you should go against.” She assured that security authorities are already dealing with the situation.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said yesterday that so far it has not monitored any imminent terror attack in the country. “Locally we have not monitored threats as high as that from al-Qaeda,” said Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, Jr., the AFP spokesman.

However, Tutaan said the military remains vigilant to avert any terror attack. “Definitely we will be on our toes to prevent any acts of terror, and to make sure that our citizenry are safe,” he said.

The alert from Interpol, the global police organization, came two days after the State Department ordered nearly two dozen diplomatic facilities closed in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia based on intelligence that an affiliate of al-Qaeda in Yemen might be plotting attacks in the coming days. On Saturday, several European governments said they, too, were temporarily closing their outposts in Yemen.

It was unclear how the Interpol and State Department alerts might be connected, although the Interpol notice did refer to the State Department closings and stated Interpol would be “prioritizing all information and intelligence in relation to the breakouts or terrorist plots.”

American and foreign officials believe that al-Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate orchestrated attacks in late July that freed hundreds of inmates from two prisons in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib. The attackers used mortars to pin down Iraqi forces, employed suicide bombers to punch holes in Iraqi defenses and then sent an assault force to free the inmates, Western officials said at the time.

A few days later, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped under murky circumstances at a prison near Benghazi, Libya. The country’s prime minister blamed local residents for carrying out the jailbreak, an accusation that security officials in Benghazi disputed.

In a separate attack at a century-old prison at Dera Ismail Khan, just outside Pakistan’s tribal belt, as many as 150 fighters blew holes in the perimeter wall and stormed the prison compound. The local authorities said that some of the attackers had been disguised as police officers, and that they had used megaphones to call out the names of specific prisoners. Nearly 250 inmates were freed during the attack.

The Interpol alert added to a climate of heightened concern set off Thursday when State Department officials spoke of possible terror plots in the works against Western facilities overseas.

The next day, the department issued a global travel alert for American citizens that warned of the potential for terror attacks by operatives of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups beginning Sunday through the end of August.

In an interview with the ABC News program “This Week” to be broadcast on Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, said the intelligence about the possible plots was “more specific” than in the past. “There’s a significant threat stream, and we’re reacting to it,” he said.

Senior Obama administration officials met at the White House on Saturday afternoon to discuss the latest information about the threat. Led by Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, the meeting was attended by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Secretary of State John Kerry; the CIA director, John O. Brennan; and other officials.

Obama administration officials have spoken optimistically in recent months about a generally diminished terror threat, and during a speech in May, President Obama said al-Qaeda and its affiliate groups had been eviscerated by American counterterrorism operation.

Still, the administration continues to wage an aggressive drone war in Pakistan and Yemen, and monitoring groups said there had been three American strikes in Yemen in the past week. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling, Elena L Aben)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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